FCC sets up digital TV

Powell presses manufacturers on tuners

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission topper Michael Powell called on the consumer electronics biz Thursday to heed his instruction and begin equipping TV sets with digital tuners.

Earlier this year, Powell asked all sectors of the television industry to shoulder part of the burden and get the troubled digital transition under way.

Broadcasters, cablers and satcasters raced to accept his challenge, leaving the consumer electronics industry the odd man out.

2003 deadline

By January, Powell wants half of TV sets that are 36 inches or larger to be equipped with digital tuners. All such sets would need to have digital tuners by Jan. 1, 2005.

When Powell announced his voluntary treatise, the Consumer Electronics Assn. criticized the plan. Not long after, the trade org softened its opposition but said it needed time to discuss the issue with member companies. Thursday, CEA prexy Gary Shapiro said those companies have agreed on a position, and that Powell will receive a letter in the coming days.

“We’re there. We’ve dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s. We’re down to doing the commas,” Shapiro said. “We applaud what the chairman is doing, and we take this matter very seriously.”

In his letter, Powell said he hoped that the makers of TV equipment would join their industry brethren in embracing his blueprint.

“The missing piece of the digital TV puzzle is the consumer electronics industry. We have not yet received a final response from the manufacturers on the phased-in inclusion of DTV tuners in new sets,” Powell said.

Net compliance

Beginning this fall, CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC will attempt to air half their primetime lineup in high definition, per Powell’s instruction. The FCC also wants HBO and Showtime to follow suit, which the subscription nets say they will do.

Powell wants network affiliates in the top 100 markets to have the necessary equipment to pass on the network signal in high-def.

Powell has secured assurances that by January cable systems with 750-megahertz capacity will offer to carry for free five digital signals per broadcaster or one high-def signal.

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